Horns Look To Put A Tiger In Their Tank

Texas has had two weeks to prepare for its conference-opener at Missouri. Make that two weeks to prepare for mizzOU.

No, no, no, no!, the Longhorns insist. There is no looking ahead to next week's Oklahoma game where Texas will be expected to exact a revenge of Shakespearean proportions. Initially, there is this little matter of opening Big 12 play on the road for the first time this millennium. It comes against a team with a revamped, trendy offense and which last year took a generally uninspired Longhorn team to the fourth quarter. It comes against one of the most dangerous, dual-threat quarterbacks in college football. That's why UT coach Mack Brown has exhorted his troops this week to take dead aim at Missouri with the eye of a, well, tiger.

In fact, Brown wouldn't even field a reporter's question (playfully, I might add) this week because it had to do with the Red River Rivalry. Yet, Brown reports that Texas prepares a little bit each week for Oklahoma and that he views the next two games as a cohesive unit representing the second quarter of the regular season. Brown divides the 2005 campaign, as follows:

First Quarter: UL-Lafayette, Ohio State, Rice

Second Quarter: Missouri, OU

Third Quarter: Big 12 games (between OU and Texas A&M)

Fourth Quarter: Texas A&M

Missouri and OU are lumped together because these are out-of-town league games, plus the annual Hate Fest with the Sooners is virtually a season in itself.

"The Oklahoma game is so emotional that you need to start over after it, win or lose," Brown said. "Even though we haven't won that game, we haven't lost the game afterwards. We'd rather have the problem of winning it and trying to focus. When we did win it the first two years, we didn't lose after it."

The bye week preceding the in-state rivalry with A&M allows for a natural separation from the remainder of the conference slate.

The four quarters approach to the regular season is based on the general premise that "the season is long and hard. And unless you give players opportunities to see daylight, then it gets too long for them. Everybody now talks about either the conference championship or the national championship; they don't talk about anything else. That's why we have to get them back to the game at hand."

The 'game at hand' in Columbia is considered, by some, to be one of those trap door games for Texas primarily because of its place on the schedule. That's why nearly every high-profile Longhorn this week has fielded at least one reporter's question that began, "How hard is it to stay focused when...?"

"We get asked that all the time, but our guys have been pretty good about staying focused," Brown said. "This is an older team, and this is a team that knows we won 28-20 last year, and they know it's hard winning on the road. They know Missouri will be really excited about this game. I don't think it will be hard for them to be focused at all."

In a game that Texas should win by a couple of touchdowns, the buildup for the ABC telecast will center around the two starting QBs who are often billed as mirror images of the other. Mizzou's Brad Smith is college football's active yardage leader (10,570) while Vince Young (surrounded by superior personnel) is a freak of nature who carries the team on his shoulder pads. Smith's subpar junior season, following MU's attempt to turn him into a pocket passer, is well documented. So is the fact that Young's game against Missouri last year was the low point of his career. He finished with 3-of-9 passing for 19 yards, exiting the game in the second half with a bruised sternum and a wounded pride. Yet, the junior (who typically references himself in the third person) is convinced that last year's performance had more to do with the emotionally draining loss to OU the previous Saturday.

"I don't feel that I struggled," Young said. "I feel like I was still going off of the Oklahoma game. That's in the past. I'm looking forward to this year. It's a whole 'nother Vince right now. At that time, it was a young Vince. Right now, he's more mature. I have more faith in my defense. I have more faith in my coaches. They've got faith in me. I'm not worried about what happened last year. It's a whole 'nother year and a whole 'nother team."

Young and Smith enjoy a personal acquaintance after having roomed together at Steve McNair's football camp in 2004. But by 11 a.m. Saturday, there's nothing personal (in every sense of the word) between the two signal callers.

"Whoever is playing your position, you want to show that guy," Young said. "That's just competitiveness."

And that's just the way it's going to be in the Show Me state this weekend.


The Horns have won 22 of their last 23 road games (not counting neutral sites), including 10 straight. Texas has won its last six Big 12 openers and is 7-2 in league openers since the inception of the conference. During Brown's tenure, the Horns have posted an 11-2 mark following regular season bye weeks. Texas holds a 14-5 edge in the Missouri series that dates back to 1894 (making Missouri the oldest active opponent on the Longhorn schedule). Texas had managed nine straight wins over Missouri until John Mackovic's Farewell Tour in 1997 (a 37-29 Tiger win). Mack Brown has never lost to Mizzou while at Texas.


The hottest commodity in college football last season was former Utah coach Urban Meyer; the coach on the hottest seat in college football this season is Missouri's Gary Pinkel. Meyer, of course, has revitalized Florida's offense. Pinkel, after posting three losing campaigns in five years, could be fishing in Florida this time next year if the Tigers don't go bowling in December.

Any wonder that Pinkel has borrowed Meyer's playbook?

On paper, Missouri's newfangled spread offense has put up some eye-popping numbers. Then again, the Fear Factor surrounding Mizzou's 553.7 ypg average (NCAA No. 6) is right up there with Rice's annual national rushing title. It begs the question: is the offense really that good, or has the caliber of its competition been that bad? Mizzou racked up those yards against the likes of Arkansas State, Troy and New Mexico (a 45-35 home loss). This is not to detract from Smith's accomplishments. At the rate he's going (113 rushing ypg), Smith will be atop the NCAA's all-time QB rushing list by the end of the month. Smith's career 3,327 rushing yards is just 568 yards off the pace set by Indiana's Antwaan Randle El four years ago.

"Brad Smith has had a phenomenal career," Texas Co-Defensive Coordinator Gene Chizik said. "He's set to break all kinds of records this year. The numbers speak for themselves."

Funny what happens when a head coach begins to trust a talented QB with the offense. Smith was a sitting duck during Pinkel's short-lived attempt to turn him into a pocket passer. The former Heisman candidate saw his rushing total dip to 553 yards as a junior while his team fell from the favorite's seat in the Big 12 North to a 5-6 season. Smith is on the move these days, apparently flourishing in a scheme that gets him on the edge and allows him to create. Smith is his team's leading rusher (339 total yards) and is averaging 6.3 ypc. (By comparison, Vince Young is averaging 6.7 ypc this season.)

"Everything starts with Brad but they're having some success on the ground giving the ball to the tailback," Chizik said. "There's just a variety of ways they can move the ball on the ground. The running game is obviously very productive."

Missouri's tailback is an Oompa Loompa in shoulder pads. Sophomore Marcus Woods stands all of 5-8 and averages 6.4 ypc (202 net yards on 31 attempts). Together, Smith and Woods help propel the nation's third-best ground game at 287.3 ypg. The Horns, meanwhile, boast college football's No. 2 rushing attack with 297 rushing ypg.

"Some of that is skewed because of the teams that you play in the early, out-of-conference games," Brown noted, "but it still means both teams can run the ball."

Smith can throw the ball, as well. He averages 249.3 passing ypg (84-of-125 for 748 yards). His favorite target this season is Z-WR William Franklin, a 6-2 sophomore who leads the Big 12 with 6.67 catches per game (20 grabs for 175 yards and one TD). Big TE Martin Rucker (6-5, 245) is a Mackey Award candidate who enjoyed a career high 52 yards on four catches in MU's last outing.

Mizzou's offensive line is taking Texas Tech-like splits these days and is anchored by senior LG Tony Palmer (33 career starts) and C Adam Spieker (a Remington Award candidate with 15 career starts). The right side of the line, however, features a pair of juniors without a collegiate start between them prior to this season.

Even so, it still comes down to containing Brad Smith.

"We've got our work cut out for us, for sure," Chizik said. "This is going to be really interesting. It'll be a great challenge for us."


Missouri Men's Athletic Department distributed a 38-page press packet this week, and this is what it had to say about the Tiger defense:

(insert sound of crickets chirping)

Well, actually, there were two brief paragraphs about how the defense "held its own against Arkansas State." The ugly truth is that Missouri's porous defense is the great equalizer to its up-and-coming offense. Against the kind of Little Sisters of The Poor non-conference slate that ranks up there with Texas Tech and Kansas, the toothless Tigers have yielded 27.7 points per game (last in Big 12) and 362.7 ypg (11th in Big 12). It says something when you're leading tackler is your strong safety. That would be David Overstreet (a former offensive player and son of the former Oklahoma RB) who leads MU with 27 stops, including a career-best 12 tackles in the loss to New Mexico.

The Tigers have two first-year starters on the D-line plus another newbie at WLB. A bright spot is MLB Dedrick Harrington, who is lauded for his speed and capacity to bring the lumber. FS Jason Simpson is an All Big-12 candidate out of The Woodlands. DE Xzavie Jackson is the team's second-leading tackler with a career-high 10 stops against New Mexico and posted 50 tackles last season. The Tigers typically base out of a 4-3 scheme but Jackson is quick enough to allow the defense to get by with three down linemen so that he can drop into coverage.

Problem is, the Tigers just don't have enough athletes of Jackson's, Simpson's and Harrington's ilk.

Here's an interesting tidbit: senior CB Marcus King is Texas SS Michael Huff's stepbrother. And if King were to play alongside the other three DBs, Missouri would field an all-Texas secondary. The Tigers sometimes go with two linebackers and three safeties.

Vince Young and Jamaal Charles should have a field day Saturday. Even so, Brown knows Missouri represents a stiffer challenge than the likes of UL-Lafayette and Rice.

"Two of the first three games, we didn't need to throw the ball," Brown said. "We're going to need to throw the ball the rest of the year and be really balanced in what we do, or people will just stack the line of scrimmage and take away our run. We feel like we're good enough now to throw the ball down the field. I think you'll see us throwing it much more during the last eight games than we did during the first three."

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